The Best Picture race just got even more interesting with the arrival of a latecomer. It’s been a long time since a late-debuting film made enough of a splash to be considered a contender to win the top prize at the Oscars, as most serious contenders debut either at the Cannes Film Festival in May or on the fall film festival circuit, where they begin their slow-march towards the Oscar race. But American Beauty filmmaker Sam Mendes‘ one-shot World War I film 1917 threatens to break the mold.
As such, my predictions have shifted, and below I’ve updated the state of the Best Picture race right now. Behold, my 2020 Best Picture predictions.
Films are listed in order of likelihood to be nominated. For a deeper dive into some of these contenders, check out my other recent Oscar Beat columns and specific predictions for Best Actor, Actress, and Director.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
These are all films that have been seen by many people—either in release or at festivals—and whose reaction suggests a major presence on the Oscar circuit to come. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems destined to be a serious contender across the board. The film picked up stellar reviews and is a genuine box office hit, as it’s now Tarantino’s second highest-grossing film of all time. Tarantino and his cast have been on the awards circuit hard over the last few months—if you want to win an Oscar, you usually have to act like it, and Tarantino and Co. certainly are doing their part. The film is also a story about Hollywood, which we know the Academy traditionally loves, and boasts a pair of excellent performances from two of the biggest movie stars in history. This is quite possibly Tarantino’s most formidable Oscar contender since Pulp Fiction.
Then there’s The Irishman, which is an epically long (three hours and 20 minutes) gangster drama from an iconic filmmaker. Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-works film premiered at the New York Film Festival to rave reviews, vaulting the Netflix original into the frontrunners circle in the Oscar race. This is a major work from an iconic filmmaker, and I expect it will be lauded as such. Scorsese tackles themes of mortality, regret, and aging with the legendary trio of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci anchoring the film. It’s a contender across the board, and a Best Picture win is absolutely a possibility.
But a latecomer threatens to upend the frontrunner status of Hollywood and Irishman. 1917 is a stunning cinematic achievement, full-stop, and early reviews are raving about the World War I film that unfolds in real-time and is made to look like one long, unedited shot. There is editing, of course, but it’s a testament to Mendes and the filmmakers involved that A. You don’t really care about trying to find the invisible cuts because the story is so good and B. It’s really hard to see the cuts. The level of difficulty on this film is insane, and Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins and the entire team pull it off beautifully. It’s the kind of flashy contender that makes you excited about movies, and that could absolutely push this ahead of the more quiet, reflective films like Hollywood, Irishman, and a few other contenders.
Speaking of which, filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Korean-language family drama Parasite is something of the critical darling pick at the moment, and the buzz around the Neon film is deafening. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year (which is not necessarily a great predictor of Oscar success), then made waves on the festival circuit—it was routinely drawing some of the longest lines at Telluride and TIFF given how many people wanted to see the movie. But more than that, it absolutely delivers as a searing, frequently shocking indictment of economic inequality. The less you know about the film the better, but it feels like a major contender in multiple categories and is likely to clean up on during the critics awards. And lest you think a foreign-language film is working at too great a disadvantage, keep in mind that Roma scored three Oscars last year.
Additionally, there’s Noah Baumbach‘s towering achievement Marriage Story—the “emotional” contender. This emotionally devastating chronicle of a couple going through the process of a divorce is Baumbach’s best film yet, and Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver career-best performances. If Kramer vs. Kramer can win Best Picture, certainly Marriage Story has a shot.
Then there’s Taika Waititi’s self-described anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to somewhat divisive (yet still overall positive) reviews and then shocked pretty much everyone by winning the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Nine of the last 10 winners of this award have scored a Best Picture nomination, and many of them went on to win the big prize—including Green Book, another film deemed too divisive to be a major contender. Jojo is probably unlikely to be a serious candidate in the acting categories, which could hinder its chances at the overall prize, but the Fox Searchlight movie’s sweet message of compassion vs. hate and its TIFF award win make it impossible to deny as a Best Picture hopeful.
In the Mix
The Two Popes
Ford v Ferrari
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Pain & Glory
So there’s a pretty robust crop of contenders here, some more formidable than others. Netflix’s The Two Popes fits into that top tier, as the two-hander starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins is a real crowdpleaser and played well on the festival circuit. This is the kind of feel-good, middle-of-the-road movie that can often times break into the Best Picture race (see: The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, etc.), which similarly applies to the Mister Rogers drama A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Director Marielle Heller breaks the film out of a familiar structure, and it’s definitely a tearjerker, but it’ll be interesting to see if the fact that Tom Hanks’ Mister Rogers is a supporting character (Matthew Rhys is the lead) has any significant impact on the film’s chances. Box office could also boost its visibility.
Fox’s Ford v Ferrari also belongs in the “top tier” so to speak, as filmmaker James Mangold’s (Logan) old-fashioned racing drama is pure satisfaction bolstered by a pair of terrific performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale. There’s a worry it may be too formulaic to break into the fray, but it’s masterfully executed and its box office is off to a swell start. And Greta Gerwig radical adaptation of Little Women is drawing incredibly strong early reactions, so it feels like the Lady Bird filmmaker could be back in the Oscar race in a big way.
Then we come to Joker. The gritty, grounded, character-driven DC Comics twist shocked everyone by winning the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival, but reviews on the whole have been a bit less universally enthusiastic. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is undeniably stellar, but the reaction to the film (and its filmmaker) will likely better determine its chances as we get closer to the voting period. The film’s insane box office (it crossed $1 billion) only helps its chances, and actors in particular seem to be taken with the movie. But is it too ultra-violent for the Academy? Does the fact that they just nominated a superhero movie for Best Picture factor into Joker‘s chances at all? It’s a bit too early to tell, but I have a feeling the movie’s gonna get in.
There’s almost always a Sundance movie in the crop of Best Picture nominees, and this year that honor would fall to Lulu Wang‘s heartfelt drama The Farewell. The movie has great reviews and solid box office, so if A24 can keep it visible for voters, it has a very descent shot of getting in.
There’s also Judy. Renee Zellwegger is all but assured a spot in the Best Actress race for her transcendent turn as Judy Garland in the movie, and while the film itself is just slightly above average, that hasn’t stopped other similar biopics in the past (see again: Theory of Everything), so it could have a shot. Although as the race gets more formidable, it’ll be tougher to crack that field.
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is surely one of the most entertaining films of the year, and I’m curious to see if Lionsgate attempts an Oscar push or if they’re simply happy with box office success during the Thanksgiving corridor. Warner Bros. will attempt to push Destin Daniel Cretton’s heartbreaking death row drama Just Mercy, which I felt was an incredibly strong picture but drew somewhat muted response from critics on the whole on the festival circuit. And watch out for Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical Spanish-language drama Pain & Glory, which boasts a spectacular Antonio Banderas performance and could be a sneaky contender in the big race.
Dolemite Is My Name
A Hidden Life
On the outside looking in are a number of films that either haven’t been seen, are fading fast, or are still a bit too iffy to tell. Early reactions to Clint Eastwood‘s Richard Jewell can’t decide if it’s a triumphant return to form or another ho-hum drama from the prolific filmmaker. Jay Roach‘s Fox News drama Bombshell is drawing more significant notices for its performances than for the film itself. And Dolemite Is My Name, while well-reviewed, has the whole “comedy” thing going against it.
Paramount is pushing Rocketman hard, and while the film is better than Bohemian Rhapsody in every way, it doesn’t quite feel like this is a repeat thing. But its status could certainly improve. And while Marvel Studios is pushing Avengers: Endgame and, traditionally, the highest-grossing film of all time gets a Best Picture nomination, the field may just be too crowded this year for the MCU capper to land a nod.
I have no idea what Amazon Studios is doing with The Report, but the excellent film deserved the kind of push that The Post and The Hurt Locker got. Instead it feels destined to be a criminally underseen gem. Alas.
Then there’s Cats, which feels like a disaster waiting to happen, but must be considered a possibility until it actually screens given the pedigree involved. Godspeed.